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Defamation costs

If you didn't dig deep into Friday's print edition or weren't able to scale our website's subscriber wall, you might've missed pretty big news in the local legal and media world yesterday: a $350,000 defamation verdict against the Baltimore City Paper. Briefly, the story is that a federal court jury found Van Smith, a veteran journalist who's covered Baltimore interestingly and well for years, defamed Miami restaurateur Ioannis Kafouros in a pair of articles two years ago by suggesting the Florida man was Ioannis "Crazy John" Kafouros, a Baltimore hustler who was convicted of trafficking in stolen goods before skipping town in 1999. That's right, the reporter said some guy was a federal fugitive when he wasn't one. Yikes. The City Paper ran corrections, of course, but the damage had been done. And so it seemed the non-fugitive Mr. Kafouros had a pretty solid case against Baltimore's alt-weekly. While the amount of the award was surprisingly high, I don't think anyone was shocked the jury awarded damages. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm told falsely stating someone is a criminal is defamation per se –- or, to borrow a phrase from the plaintiff Kafouros' attorney, “that’s all she wrote.” So that's the first point: the jury got it right by finding negligence. The City Paper screwed up, as it has admitted, and this is the final proof of that. But that said, having covered the trial, I think what happened in this case was an honest mistake - costly, but honest.

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